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Posts for October, 2014

No Gifts, No Welcoming: Catholic Synod In Full Retreat on Gays in the Church

Jim Burroway

October 18th, 2014

(Note: Because this is a breaking story, this post has been updated numerous times between 12:40 p.m. and 1:20 p.m. PDT.)

The hardliners have won. The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, which has wrapped up its first session in Rome this weekend, has just approved its final Relatio Synodi in the original, official Italian. An official English translation is not yet available, but Buzzfeed provides this in-house translation:

The pastoral care of people with homosexual orientation

55. Some families live the experience of having members who are of homosexual orientation. In this regard, questions have been raised on pastoral care which is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: “There is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or to draw even remote analogies between same-sex unions and the plan of God for marriage and the family. ” Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. “In their regard should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).

56. It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer the pressures in this matter and that international bodies condition financial aid to poor countries, on the institution of laws that establish the “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

This represents a complete and utter victory for the Church’s more hardliner wing, particularly the American, African, and Oceanian bishops who angrily denounced the interim Relatio for asking whether the church was capable of providing a “welcoming… fraternal space” for gay people who possess “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” That statement also acknowledged “cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners,” while also recognizing the needs of the children of gay couples.

The new statement has none of that. It recognizes nothing about gay people or their children. In fact, it doesn’t recognize gays and lesbians at all, but rather restricts itself to addressing families who “live the experience of having members who are of homosexual orientation.” Which means it’s not even meant to address us. This is not just a full reversal from Monday’s statement, it’s not even as minimally positive as the mysteriously revised English mistranslation that was issued Thursday. This is more than just a backtrack. It’s a doubling down on the part of John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s appointed English-speaking bishops, and stunning rebuke of Pope Francis’s attempts to inject a small dose of humanity into the operation of the Church.

Despite the full-on capitulation to conservative clerics, the conservative EWTN-affiliated National Catholic Register still says, “Critics, however, have said the message, published on the eve of the final day of the two-week ecclesial gathering, sends out ‘weak and ambiguous’ signals on the Church’s positions on sexual morality”:

Yet this approach has not been accepted by everyone. Speaking to the Register Saturday, Opus Dei Father Robert Gahl, professor of moral philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, said: “The Holy Father’s silence on vexing questions leaves the Church in suspense.” He added that this suspense “is intensified by the ambiguities” of the interim report on the synod which was issued Monday, “because we all expect our faith to be confirmed by the successor Peter.”

Voice of the Family, a coalition of pro-family groups, criticized the final message for sending out “weak and ambiguous” signals about the Church’s stance on sexual morality. Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, archbishop of Aparecida, Brazil, said it should have contained “a clear statement rejecting any openings to homosexuality, cohabitation, so-called ‘second marriages’, or contraception,” especially after the interim report whose content “caused scandal both inside and outside the synod.”

It should be noted however that three paragraphs of the Relatio Synodi did not receive the required two-thirds approval. Two of those paragraphs were on divorce and remarriage, and Paragraph 55 in the section on gay people. Paragraph 55 fell short of the two-thirds majority in 118 to 62 vote. Pope Francis nevertheless agreed to release the full Relatio for the sake of transparency, along with the vote totals at the end for each paragraph. The failure of paragraph 55 to reach a two-thirds vote is seen as a protest by some of the more progressive bishops, who object to watering down the passage. 

It’s also important to note that the Relatio Synodi has no doctrinal authority, but is rather a set of discussion points to be considered between now and when the Synod meets again next year. The current Relatio however is being presented as interim guidelines to the Episcopal Conferences, which means that there would be no pressure to change how bishops respond to LGBT teachers and church members.

So what’s next? The Synod isn’t over, but will continue off and on for at least another year. An executive session will meet next month in Baltimore to draft a more detailed report which is expected to become a first draft for next year’s agenda. Meanwhile, the Pope reportedly told the Synod that they have a year to “mature” their ideas “with true spiritual discernment.” When the Synod meets again next October (and assuming the Synod doesn’t get extended further), it will issue a final Relatio, which, again, would not carry any authoritative doctrinal significance, but it would represent a consensus of the bishops. After that, it is customary for elements of a final Relatio to make their way into an Apostolic Exhortation, which, when promulgated by the Pope, becomes an official authoritative document of the Roman Catholic Church. There’s a lot that can happen between now and then:

When the synod reconvenes, it won’t be quite the same. Some who participated in this year’s meeting won’t be back (I’m thinking of papal critic Cardinal Raymond Burke). And Francis will likely select new cardinals come February. Why might a new-look synod matter? Because the sections that failed still had majority support. The paragraph on gay people, for example, failed by just six votes. But the synod fathers who want divorced and remarried Catholics to be able to receive the Eucharist have a longer row to hoe. Those sections failed by larger margins–and they did nothing more than state what had been discussed.

Meanwhile, just outside the walls of Vatican City, the mayor of Rome has registered sixteen same-sex marriages.

Lost in La Traslazione

Jim Burroway

October 16th, 2014

There are truly strange things going on at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. On Monday, the Synod released its Relatio Post Disceptationem (literally, Report after Discussions), a sort of a first draft for an upcoming Relatio Synodi, or Report of the Synod. The Relatio Post Disceptationem contained some rather remarkable language under the heading of “Welcoming Homosexual Persons,” which began, “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? ” It also recognized that “without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”

On the negative side, the statement also “affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman,” and denounced international efforts to tie aid to “regulations inspired by gender ideology.” But overall, as I explained on Monday, the positive aspects of the statement represented a tremendous shift in how the Church was willing to look at gay Catholics, and gay people generally.

Almost immediately, there was considerable blowback from the more conservative elements within the Church. Given that almost all of the bishops at the Synod were appointed either by Pope John Paul II or his even more conservative successor Benedict XVI, that blowback is not a small thing. Wednesday, the Synod released its Unofficial Summary of the Free Discussions in the Assembly which took place on Tuesday. That summary of discussions, which is akin to meeting minutes, revealed that one of the concerns expressed within the Synod was that the final Relatio Synodi should not leave “the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency (homosexuality) on the part of the Church.” The pushback now was well underway.

Today, that pushback gathered seam as the Vatican’s press office circulated a new English translation of Monday’s Relatio. The new translation now reads, with the substantive changes highlighted in bold:

Providing for homosexual persons

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing […] them […] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor’s outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to […] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority. [Emphasis mine]

There are the four substantive changes:

1. In the phrasing above, “Providing for” highlighted in both instances used to read “welcoming.”

2. The phrase “A place of fellowship” used to read “a fraternal space.”

3. The question, “Are our communities capable of this…” used to read, “Are our communities capable of providing that…” in referring to “offer(ing) them a welcoming home.”

4. And the phrase which speaks of couples making sacrifices which are “a valuable support in the life of these persons” used to read “”a precious support in the life of the partners.”

If you scroll to the bottom of the document, you’ll see that the original diffinatve text is in Italian. When you go to the Italian version of the Relatio, you find this (I’ve highlighted the points of contention):

Accogliere le persone omosessuali

50. Le persone omosessuali hanno doti e qualità da offrire alla comunità cristiana: siamo in grado di accogliere queste persone, garantendo loro uno spazio di fraternità nelle nostre comunità? Spesso esse desiderano incontrare una Chiesa che sia casa accogliente per loro. Le nostre comunità sono in grado di esserlo accettando e valutando il loro orientamento sessuale, senza compromettere la dottrina cattolica su famiglia e matrimonio?

51. La questione omosessuale ci interpella in una seria riflessione su come elaborare cammini realistici di crescita affettiva e di maturità umana ed evangelica integrando la dimensione sessuale: si presenta quindi come un’importante sfida educativa. La Chiesa peraltro afferma che le unioni fra persone dello stesso sesso non possono essere equiparate al matrimonio fra uomo e donna. Non è nemmeno accettabile che si vogliano esercitare pressioni sull’atteggiamento dei pastori o che organismi internazionali condizionino aiuti finanziari all’introduzione di normative ispirate all’ideologia del gender.

52. Senza negare le problematiche morali connesse alle unioni omosessuali si prende atto che vi sono casi in cui il mutuo sostegno fino al sacrificio costituisce un appoggio prezioso per la vita dei partners. Inoltre, la Chiesa ha attenzione speciale verso i bambini che vivono con coppie dello stesso sesso, ribadendo che al primo posto vanno messi sempre le esigenze e i diritti dei piccoli.

The Italian version has not changed one iota since its original release on Monday. But when comparing the authoritative Italian version to the revised English, Italian speakers would quickly observe the following:

1. Accogliere means welcoming, no ifs, ands or buts.

2. The phrase “A place of fellowship,” which used to read “a fraternal space,” is renedered in Italian as “spazio di fraternità.” It seems to me the original translation, “a fraternal space,” is far closer to the Italian. I’m not sure what that change in English might signify, but whoever inserted that change certainly had something in mind.

3. The question, “Are our communities capable of this…”, is interesting. It used to read, “Are our communities capable of providing that…” with both pronouns referring to “offer(ing) them a welcoming home.” In this case, “welcoming home” (“casa accogliente”) wasn’t changed, although the meaning of accogliente was changed elsewhere. But even more interesting is that the Italian asks whether “our coommunities are capable di esserlo accettando” — “of being accepting…” a phrase that never appeared in either English translation.

4. And the phrase that used to describe couples providing “a precious support in the life of the partners” is clearly rendered in the original Italian as providing a prezioso support in the life of dei partners.” It doesn’t take much of a translator to see that the original was far more correct.

And by the way, the French and Spanish versions continue to use the same “welcoming/fraternal/accepting/partner” terminology as the original Italian. Only the English version is different.

So what’s going on?

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said English-speaking bishops had requested the changes, arguing that the first translation was hasty and error-ridden.

When Lombardi was shown how significantly the meaning had changed, he pledged to investigate and didn’t rule out a third version.

Lombardi stressed that the original Italian remains the official text, and noted that the draft is being revised top-to-bottom for a final report which will go to a vote among bishops on Saturday.

Michelle Boorstein, the Washington Post’s religion reporter, goes a bit further:

Asked at the news conference Thursday why the document was changed — and only in English — the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said he was simply given the translation from the group of clergy who are working in English and was sharing it.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a priest-journalist covering the synod, said the clergy are “in a panic. They are afraid this welcoming language will confuse people. They’ll think the church is going to change its teaching.” None of the 190 clergy are pushing for that, he said.

“You get the impression they are very concerned, they want more theology in the document. They want more church teaching in the document. They want more encouragement to Catholics who are struggling to follow church teaching. They are very much afraid if they talk too much about what’s good in these incomplete and impartial relationships that people will say: ‘Then why should I bother doing what the church teaches?’”

What seems clear to me is that the final text will be rather different from the interim report. Gerard O’Connel, writing for the Jesuit news magazine America, spoke with American Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (President of the U.S. bishops’ conference) Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona, and Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization to get a sense of what the final document might look like:

From the comments of these three prelates, and others that I have spoken to, it would seem that the section of the interim report which speaks about “welcoming homosexual persons” (Numbers: 50, 51, 52) will be considerably revised, perhaps even re-written. Sources say some statements could be eliminated as they lack nuance and give a wrong understanding of the church’s teaching and pastoral approach.

Archbishop Kurtz said that his group here made an effort “to improve and clarify the notion of welcome,” so that it is close to church teaching and pastoral practice.

Kurtz got his way with the English translation of the interrim Relato. We’ll see what happens with the final Relatio Synodi, which will be brought to a vote on Saturday. A two-thirds approval of the Synod is required for its passage.

Was it a Backtrack or a Pushback?

Jim Burroway

October 15th, 2014

CNN says it was a “backtrack“:

Under furious assault from conservative Catholics, the Vatican backtracked Tuesday on its surprisingly positive assessment of gays and same-sex relationships.

…In response to such reactions (from Conservative clerics), the Vatican backtracked a bit Tuesday. In a statement, it said the report on gays and lesbians was a “working document,” not the final word from Rome.

The Vatican also said that it wanted to welcome gays and lesbians in the church, but not create “the impression of a positive evaluation” of same-sex relationships, or, for that matter, of unmarried couples who live together.

Calling it a backtrack is an over-reach in my opinion. To understand what happened, it’s very important to understand what the two documents were and what they mean. The first document released Monday was a Relatio, which is nothing but an interrim report released by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Its weight in Catholic doctrine is nil, and its authority in Catholic practices is comparably low. Like all interim reports, it includes (very) preliminary findings, asks a bunch of questions, and proposes points to consider between now and when the Bishops gather again a year from now. But also like all interim reports, it does point to some kind of a direction in terms of how Pope Francis hopes the discussions will follow. I think this is especially true given how unceremoniously he dumped Cardinal Raymond Burke as head of the Apostolic Signatura (a sort of a Vatican Supreme Court) just before the Synod’s start. You may remember Burke. He’s the one who said this during the Synod:

Burke was also among the loudest complainers on Tuesday:

He strongly criticized yesterday’s Relatio … which the Catholic lay group Voice of the Family had called a “betrayal,” saying it proposes views that “faithful shepherds … cannot accept,” and betrays an approach that is “not of the Church.” … The relatio, he said, proposes views that many Synod fathers “cannot accept,” and that they “as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept.” … “Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable,” Burke told Olsen.

And Maggie Gallagher was in tears:

I hope to respond intellectually to the synod report. Tears right now are streaming from my face, and it is not about objections to welcoming gay people. There is something more profoundly at stake for me.

Is this me? In the corner?

Conservatives are furious, with some yearning for the good old days of Pope Benedict XVI’s Bavarian rigidity. And in reaction to that fury, CNN saw what they thought was a “backtrack,” which brings us to the second document released Tuesday in Italian. Here’s the rushed English translation (it’s so rushed that I had to correct part of it):

In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with just prudence [my correction], so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation.

As for the “just prudence,” that likely refers to the second paragraph of the Relatio’s section on “welcoming homosexual persons“:

…The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions…

Quite a bit of negativity there. I don’t think “a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church” is possible when we’re not considered on the same footing as heterosexual couples. But again, it’s important to understand the nature of this second document. It’s title tells you the whole story: Eleventh General Congregation: Unofficial Summary of the Free Discussions in the Assembly. If the Relatio was an interim report, then the Unofficial Summary is akin to minutes of Tuesday’s meeting and nothing more. And those minutes don’t suggest a backtrack, but rather a pushback from some of the more Conservative voices. That pushback may yet force a backtrack, but it hasn’t yet. This week, the Synod is preparing the more final Relatio Synodi, which means that this Relatio is something of a first draft of a final interrim report. It will be discussed on Thursday (another summary of speeches will be published then) and voted on next Saturday. What can we expect in the next several days? It’s very hard to know. Vatican Insider’s coverage of a press briefing after the Unofficial Summary‘s release hints at all kinds of intrigue and suspicions:

Two of the men moderating the discussions spoke at today’s briefing: the South African Wilfrid Fox Napier and the Italian Fernando Filoni. The briefing illustrated further the frank and collegial nature of the Synod debates. “Some within the circle were surprised at the media’s reactions; some seemed perplexed, as if the Pope had said, as if the Synod had decided, as if…,” the prefect of Propaganda Fide said, underlining the “extraordinary richness of the debate”. Cardinal Napier was more critical. He spoke of “dissatisfaction” among Synod participants and said the text had been “misinterpreted” partly because of the media but also because many people’s expectations are perhaps a little unrealistic. Much of the content of the relatio post disceptationem is not very helpful in getting the Church’s teaching across, Napier pointed out. He said he suspected that those leading the Synod are not committed to expressing the opinions of the entire Synod but only those of a specific group. The final document should include a “clarification”. Filoni, on the other hand, said he could not give the exact percentage of Synod Fathers who expressed concern about the text yesterday and today. He underlined that the text was generally appreciated and that the reaction to the text’s approach was essentially positive. But it needs to be improved in terms of contextualization. Regarding homosexuality, Napier said his concern is that the final document will not match the media’s take on the draft, and anything said in the future will simply look like “damage control”.

…The South African cardinal expressed surprise at the decision to publish the relatio post disceptationem, while Filoni said some in the circuli minores wondered whether it had been published by mistake. But Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi explained that the relatio post disceptationem “is always presented the minute it is ready” and this has been the case at every Synod. What probably caused the excitement was the “nature of the issue, which attracted a great deal of attention and raised many expectations.” Fr. Lombardi announced that Mgr. Rino Fisichella and the President of the US Bishops’ Conference, Joseph Kurtz will be attending tomorrow’s briefing. The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx will speak in Thursday and Friday’s briefings, respectively.

The two Cardinals given speaking allotments are interesting choices. In 2012, Cardinal Schönborn reinstated a gay man in a registered partnership to a pastoral council after his election was vetoed by the parish priest.  Last year, he earned Lifesite News’s wrath when he urged respect for same-sex relationships. Cardinal Marx has also been critical of the Church’s approach to LGBT people, even going so far as to say that he would pray for their relationships.

A Quiet Revolution At St. Peters?

Jim Burroway

October 13th, 2014

That’s the reaction from Fr. James Martin, S.J. of the Jesuit magazine America to the mid-term report from the Roman Catholic Church’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family which was convene by Pope Francis last week. Stunning sums it up nicely. Others are calling it a “revolution,” but that word will always mean something rather less radical in the very slow-moving Roman Catholic Church, where speed is measured in centuries rather than minutes, than it does in the real world. So keeping that perspective is always advised.

The Synod was called to examine the many changes taking place in the world and the Church’s response to them — or lack of response or inappropriate response, as the case may be. Items for discussion include waht is termed “irregular marraiges,” which include civil marriages that haven’t been sanctioned by the Church (civil marriages of divorced Catholics, for example), cohabitation, and same-sex marriages. These two paragraphs indicate that the Church, under Pope Francis, appears willing to consider lessons learned from “beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries”:

In this light, the value and consistency of natural marriage must first be emphasized. Some ask whether the sacramental fullness of marriage does not exclude the possibility of recognizing positive elements even the imperfect forms that may be found outside this nuptial situation, which are in any case ordered in relation to it. The doctrine of levels of communion, formulated by Vatican Council II, confirms the vision of a structured way of participating in the Mysterium Ecclesiae by baptized persons.

In the same, perspective, that we may consider inclusive, the Council opens up the horizon for appreciating the positive elements present in other religions (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2) and cultures, despite their limits and their insufficiencies (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 55). Indeed, looking at the human wisdom present in these, the Church learns how the family is universally considered as the necessary and fruitful form of human cohabitation. In this sense, the order of creation, in which the Christian vision of the family is rooted, unfolds historically, in different cultural and geographical expressions.

Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.

[Note: Lumen Gentium, Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et Spes refer to three Vatican II Council documents.]

The document doesn’t offer much in the way of conclusions. Those won’t come until the Synod meets again in October of 2015. Instead, the report consists mainly of points for consideration, terms which are clearly influenced by Pope Francis’s push for what might be termed a “kinder, gentler church.” I don’t think the Church is about to undergo any significant doctrinal changes, but it does appear open to reconsider how it deals with situations that fall outside of its doctrines. That alone is surprising. But more surprising is what you’ll find under the heading of “welcoming homosexual persons”:

Welcoming homosexual persons

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

It’s interesting to me that the bishops chose to go with the more generic phrasing of “moral problems” rather than the more commonly used “intrinsically disordered” language of natural law. And it’s true that our relationships do pose “moral problems” — for the Church at least, if not necessarily for us. The Church’s moral problem is that it continues to treat gay people as outcasts and lepers. I know, that’s not what they meant when they included the phrase here, and you can also see the Bishops drawing some hard and fast limits on how far they’re willing to go. They are closed to the idea of sanctioning same-sex marriages, and they are sore about tax dollars being tied to nondiscrimination requirements.

But the glass is at least beginning to fill part of the way. This is the first time in the Church’s history that its leadership appears willing to look at our relationships in anything approaching a positive light. The document acknowledges that we have “gifts and talents” without having to, err, “balance” that that recognition with our living in sin. And it recognizes that there are same-sex relationships which rise “to the point of sacrifice” and “constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the word “sacrifice” in Catholic doctrine. It signifies an essential opening to all that is good and holy, whether it’s Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross or the daily sacrifices that we make as we go about our lives. Sacrifice is central to the Catholic understanding. Non-Catholics see it most visibly in the Lenten sacrifices and fasting, but Catholics see sacrifices, big and small, as a daily expression of their faith. Gay people living in same-sex relationships have been hitherto looked upon as selfish and narcissistic, unwilling to sacrifice their sexuality for their faith. And so for the Bishops to acknowledge that gays and lesbians are also living sacrificial lives is to suggest that something good and valuable is happening. That word’s appearance alone in this context is, I think, the most earth-shattering aspect of this statement.

The idea of gay couples offer anything “precious” in their relationships has never appeared in an official church document before. And the phrase “intrinsically disordered,” so reflexively deployed in the past, is nowhere to be found. At a news conference following the report’s release, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Bruno Forte was asked about that section:

Asked if that stance represented a change in understanding of sexual orientation at the highest levels of the church, Forte said Monday: “What I want to express is that we must respect the dignity of every person.”

“The fact to be homosexual does not mean that this dignity does not have to be recognized and promoted,” he continued.

“The fundamental idea is the centrality of the person independent of different sexual orientations,” Forte said. “And I think it is the most important point. And also the attitude of the church to welcome persons who have homosexual orientation is based on the dignity of the person they are.”

Asked how the church would respond to same-sex unions, Forte said such unions have “rights that should be protected,” and this is an “issue of civilization and respect of those people.”

Fr. Martin says those two statements represent “a revolutionary change“:

. Nowhere in the document are such terms as “intrinsically disordered,” “objectively disordered,” or even the idea of “disinterested friendships” among gays and lesbians, which was used just recently. The veteran Vaticanologist John Thavis rightly called the document an “earthquake.”

…The document is just the mid-point summary of the bishops’ meetings over the last week, and is not a final declaration. (Besides, the Synod has another session next year, after which Pope Francis will issue his final apostolic exhortation, which will be his own teaching on the Synod’s deliberations.) But it is still revolutionary, as were some of the comments of the participants during the press conference today. Clearly Pope Francis’s call for openness at the beginning of the Synod has allowed the bishops to listen carefully, to speak their minds and to be open to new ways of thinking. As was the case at the Second Vatican Council, the participants may have gone into this Synod not expecting much openness or change, but the Holy Spirit is afoot.

Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent for the independent and often critical National Catholic Reporter, live-tweeted the document’s release and the press conference. He was also encouraged by the Synod’s interim report:

Conservative Catholics, on the other hand, are in quite a lather. The anti-gay Lifesite News calls it an “Earthquake” and rounds up the usual dose of conservative outrage:

However, it has also met a sharp rebuke from Catholic activists. John Smeaton, co-founder of Voice of the Family, a coalition of 15 international pro-famiy groups, said it is “one of the worst official documents drafted in Church history.”

“Thankfully the report is a preliminary report for discussion, rather than a definitive proposal,” he said in a press release. “It is essential that the voices of those lay faithful who sincerely live out Catholic teaching are also taken into account. Catholic families are clinging to Christ’s teaching on marriage and chastity by their finger-tips.”

…Patrick Buckley of European Life Network said the report is “an attack on marriage and family” that “in effect gives a tacit approval of adulterous relationships, thereby contradicting the Sixth Commandment and the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the indissolubility of marriage.”

Maria Madise, coordinator for Voice of the Family, asked whether parents must now “tell their children that the Vatican teaches that there are positive and constructive aspects to … mortal sins” such as cohabitation and homosexuality.

“It would be a false mercy to give Holy Communion to people who do not repent of their mortal sins against Christ’s teachings on sexual purity. Real mercy consists of offering people a clean conscience via the Sacrament of Confession and thus union with God,” she said.

“Many of those who claim to speak in the name of the universal Church have failed to teach the faithful. This failure has created unprecedented difficulties for families. No responsibility is taken for this failure in this disastrous mid-way report,” she added. “The Synod’s mid-way report will increase the incidence of faithful Catholics being labelled as ‘pharisees’, simply for upholding Catholic teaching on sexual purity.”

Of course, if the shoe fits, then Pharisees it is.

Vatican Surveys Parishes on Gays, Divorce, Contraception

Jim Burroway

November 1st, 2013

In preparation for the Vatican Synod on “Pastoral Challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” called by Pope Francis for next October, the Vatican is asking bishops around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll asking Catholics their opinions on a number of church teachings, including same-sex marriage, contraception and divorce. The independent National Catholic Reporter has the details:

Among topics bishops’ conferences are asked in the Vatican document to question their Catholic populations about:

  • How the church’s teaching on “the value of the family” is understood today. “In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice?” the document asks. “If so, what are they?”
  • Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a “pastoral reality” in their church. “Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?” the document asks. “How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?”
  • How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for. “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?” it asks. “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”
  • Whether married couples have “openness” to becoming parents and whether they accept Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that prohibited artificial contraception use by Catholics. “Is this moral teaching accepted?” it asks. “What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?”

The documents accompanying the survey reveal a tension within the Church. Since his election just seven months ago, Pope Francis has signaled a willingness to open the church up and change its approach to LGBT Catholics. And on the one hand, this unprecedented survey represents a huge change to the way the Vatican has traditionally done business. On the other hand, some of the documents deploy  some of the more traditional cultural-warfare talking points:

Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care include: …relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right. Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.

Degrading rhetoric aside — wombs for hire? — the document does illustrate the crisis that the Church faces, particularly in the West and especially among young people:

Consequently, we can well understand the urgency with which the worldwide episcopate is called upon to gather cum et sub Petro to address these challenges. For example, by simply calling to mind the fact that, as a result of the current situation, many children and young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments, then we understand just how urgent are the challenges to evangelization arising from the current situation, which can be seen in almost every part of the “global village”. Corresponding in a particular manner to this reality today is the wide acceptance of the teaching on divine mercy and concern towards people who suffer on the periphery of societies, globally and in existential situations. Consequently, vast expectations exist concerning the decisions which are to be made pastorally regarding the family.

It’s not clear exactly how widespread the questionnaire will be distributed. A letter accompanying the US version of the survey simply asks the bishops “to share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local source can be received.” The survey period ends December 31, with reports due to the Vatican by the end of January. A spokesperson for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops told NCR, “It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome.” Meanwhile, NCR reports that Bishops in England and Wales have posted a survey online. That survey is in essay form rather than multiple choice, asking participants such questions as:

  • Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
  • How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
  • Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
  • Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
  • What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
  • What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
  • In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
  • What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
  • How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?
  • How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

That last question can be a tricky one in the U.S., where there have been several cases of children being barred from Catholic schools because their same-sex parents have decided to live together as a couple or marry.

So After Pope Francis’s Opening, These Things Happened

Jim Burroway

September 25th, 2013

After the Jesuit magazine America published an interview with Pope Francis last week in which the pontiff chastised the church for “insist(ing) only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” a couple of events took place which, in my view, reinforced my caution that while we can be greatly encouraged by Francis’s comments, its important not to get too carried away. Specifically, I pointed out that nothing in church doctrine had changed. Further, I cautioned that just as under Benedict XVI, the entire Church was not the Pope and hierarchy, but the laity as well; so, too, today the entire Church is not the Pope and laity, but the hierarchy as well. A couple of events since last week bring all of that back into sharp focus.

First, there’s the excommunication of the former Father Greg Reynolds, of Melbourne, Australia. Fr. Reynolds says that he was excommunicated over his support for women’s ordination and gay Catholics. That excommunication took place last May, before the Pope’s more recent comments and before his comment last July responding to a question about gay priests with another question: “Who am I to judge?” Chronology may or may not explain the church’s inconsistency in its approach to Reynolds. Another explanation may be found in this report by the independent and often critical National Catholic Reporter:

The letter, a copy of which NCR obtained and translated, accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367). It also referenced Canon 1369 (speaking publicly against church teaching) in its review of the case.

I have no idea as to the circumstances or veracity of that middle accusation. It may be real, or it may be a red herring. Of the three accusations, that one by far would be the most serious, and its inclusion here greatly clouds the issue. Reynolds has addressed the first and third accusation, but so far I’ve found no comments from anyone on the second one, except for Reynold’s broader comments saying he doesn’t know why he was excommunicated. As I said, there may be nothing to it, or there may be more than Fr. Reynolds is disclosing. Until that is sorted out, the question of Reynolds’s excommunication remains not so cut-and-dried in my mind.

Much less murky is the decision by Providence College, a Catholic institution in Rhode Island, to rescind its invitation to John Corvino, chair of Wayne State University’s philosophy department, to discuss the ethics (and not the theology) of gay marriage in a debate with a Providence theologian. Corvino’s invitation, which was co-sponsored by nine departments and programs, was cancelled in an announcement last Saturday by college provost and senior vice president Hugh F. Lena, who cited a church document that says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” This, of course, wasn’t an “honor,” but a debate and discussion, which, last I checked, was supposed to be one of the hallmarks of higher education. Corvino responded:

The reference to “awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” applies, for example, to allowing such politicians to present commencement addresses or to receive honorary degrees. By contrast, I am an academic speaker. Both the person introducing me and I would state clearly that my views were not those of the Catholic Church; moreover, a respondent from the Providence College theology department, Dr. Dana Dillon, would follow immediately to explain the Church’s position on marriage. Far from suggesting “support” for my views, the College would have ample opportunity to express precisely the opposite.

The silver lining however is a pretty big one. It exposes Providence College to suspicions that it is not confident in its ability to defend church doctrine when it comes to marriage equality. That’s a pretty pathetic patch of ground for a supposedly prestigious Catholic college to stand on, if you ask me. Also, the timing of the cancellation’s announcement — on the Saturday after Pope Francis’s interview went online — couldn’t have been better to guarantee the most favorable publicity. For Corvino:

So, Providence College has done wonders for my media exposure. In the last 24 hours I’ve talked to The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Huffington Post, the Providence Journal, the Detroit Free Press, a half dozen radio producers (I’m about to go on WPRO with former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci), and MSBNC (which may have me on “Last Word” tomorrow or Thursday night).

Follow the Money: Catholic Groups Emerge As Largest Donors In Marriage Battles

Jim Burroway

October 18th, 2012

Simultaneous to Equally Blessed’s report on the Knights of Columbus’ extensive donations against marriage equality since 2005, the Human Rights Campaign released its tabulations of contributions to the four 2012 battleground states in which marriage proposals are on the ballot. According to the HRC’s calculations, the Catholic Church and its affiliate organizations are providing more than half of the funds that have been raised so far against marriage equality in each of the four battleground states.

The major sources of funding include various dioceses and parishes of the Catholic Church itself, the Catholic charitable organization the Knights of Columbus, and the National Organization for Marriage, which has extensive ties to the Catholic hierarchy. The breakdown of Catholic spending against marriage equality in 2012 goes like this:

Minnesota: Of the nearly $1.2 million raised so far, $600,000 has come from the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense fund, $135,000 from the Knights of Columbus and its local chapters, $188,200 from Catholic dioceses and parishes across the nation, and $23,000 from NOM. Nearly 78% of Minnesota’s anti-marriage funding has come from Catholic sources.

Maryland: Of the $855,00 raised so far, $250,000 has come from the Knights of Columbus, $400,000 from NOM, and $12,000 from the Maryland Catholic Conference. About 77% of Maryland’s anti-marriage funding has come from Catholic sources.

Washington: Of the 1.6 million raised so far, $675,939 has come from NOM, $250,000 from the Knights of Columbus, another $4,000 from a local Knights chapter, $5,000 from St. Monica Parish. About 58% of Washington’s anti-marriage funding has come from Catholic sources.

Maine: Of the $446,317 raised so far, $263,324 has come from NOM, and $1,135 from the Knights of Columbus. About 59% of Maine’s anti-marriage funding has come from those two sources.

These activities contrast sharply to public opinion polls which show that Roman Catholics increasingly support marriage quality for gays and lesbians. A Public Religion Research Poll in 2011 showed that nearly three quarters of self-identified Roman Catholics support civil recognition of marriage or civil unions, with 64% of weekly churchgoing Catholics holding that same opinion. In 2012, Catholic support for marriage equality has risen noticeably, particularly when the question is framed in terms of civil marriage. When same-sex marriage is defined as a civil marriage “like you get at city hall,” Catholic support for allowing gay couples to marry increases by 28 points, from 43% to 71%. (This large jump is undoubtedly due to the fact that Catholics — divorced Catholics in particular — are very attuned to the distinction between a civil marriage and a church marriage.) This latest data demonstrates a growing divide between lay Catholics and the actions of the Catholic Church and its affiliated institutions.

Andrew Comiskey To Speak at Catholic Ex-Gay Conference

Jim Burroway

July 19th, 2012

As I mentioned in today’s Daily Agenda, the Catholic ex-gay organization Courage will be holding its annual conference on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. Most of the speakers lined up for the conference are relatively unknown outside of the Catholic/Courage world, but one names stands out: Andrew Comiskey, Executive Director of Desert Stream Ministries, who recently pulled out of the Exodus umbrella. As I noted before, Comiskey appears to be leaning much more toward Catholic theology, which made his theological dispute with Exodus president Alan Chambers rather interesting, to say the least.

Comiskey also split with Exodus over the latter organization’s decision to distance itself from Reparative Therapy, which remains an important component in DSM. While Courage has typically shied away from encouraging members to seek sexual orientation change as a goal, it has nevertheless promoted the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), including a direct link to “NARTH testimonies” under Courage’s “Member Testimonies” web page.

Comiskey will give two talks at the Courage conference. On Friday, he will deliver the evening plenary talk, “Naked Surrender: Coming Home to Our True Sexuality”, and on Saturday he will give a workshop on “Restoring Relational Integrity through the Broken Body of Christ.”

It’s probably not unprecedented for a non-Catholic to give a talk at a Courage Conference, but it’s also hard to image Comiskey being given a platform for either of these two talks unless they are fully in line with Catholic teachings. If it turns out that Comiskey is increasingly finding a home in the Catholic world, it remains to be seen what kinds of strains Comiskey’s theological outlook may induce within Desert Stream’s far-flung ministries or with potential tie-ups with other ex-gay ministries which have recently left Exodus, all of which have deep historic roots in Protestant Evangelicalism.

Update: I had missed this, but as William commented below, Comiskey announced in January that he converted to Catholicism the prior Easter. He should fit in well. In 2010, Comiskey posted an admission on his blog that a staffer at DSM had sexually abused at least one teenager under their care. But instead of publicly apologizing for the appalling transgression or expressing anguish over the teen’s abuse, he lamented his trauma from having been interrogated by police and worrying about liability insurers. And he expressed gratitude that “God spared us” from the humiliation of the story appearing in the newspapers. He’s only been a Catholic for a little over a year, but already he’s qualified to be a Bishop.

Santorum’s New Hampshire Catholic problem

Timothy Kincaid

January 6th, 2012

New Hampshire is about 35% Catholic and when you consider those who vote in the Republican primary, I suspect the percentage is higher. Which is really bad news for Rick Santorum, the candidate running to bring US law into conformity with Vatican dictates.

Because “Catholic” in New Hampshire isn’t the same thing as Catholic in the Santorum household (Wall Street Journal)

An October poll by the University of New Hampshire found that state voters overall opposed the repeal bill two-to-one. Among likely GOP primary voters, 47% opposed repeal versus 39% in favor, the poll found.

Pirozzi Monier, a Goffstown, N.H., retiree who was at a town hall held by candidate Rick Santorum Thursday night, says she has “deeply rooted Roman Catholic” beliefs, but said, “Would I be opposed to friends getting married who are gay? No.”

In what she described as a typical New Hampshire attitude, she said she believes in staying out of her friends and neighbors’ business. “I’m old Yankee stock,” she said. ‘Good fences make good neighbors.”

Thomas More Law Center – a rare glimpse at evil

Timothy Kincaid

December 19th, 2011

The Thomas More Law Center is the Catholic version of the Alliance Defense Fund. Created by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan as part of his billion dollar campaign to promote Catholicism (of the more fanatical Mel Gibson variety), it exists to defend the “religious freedom” of Catholics, a notion which seems to be based on the presumption that Catholics have the God-given freedom to dictate all matters of social or civil policy. Among the sparks of brilliance that have graced its board have been presidential candidates Alan Keyes and Rick Santorum.

Thomas More Law Center is perhaps best known for losing a lawsuit seeking to force Planned Parenthood to warn about (unproven) links to breast cancer, losing the defense of a website which encouraged the murder of abortion doctors, losing a case against Ann Arbor Public School District to stop it from providing insurance benefits to same-sex partners, seeking to interfere in Judge Roy Moore’s failed attempt to thwart the courts and erect a huge “Ten Commandments monument” at the Alabama Supreme Court, shopping school districts until it found one willing to go to court to defend “intelligent design” and then losing the case, unsuccessfully suing Los Angeles County when it removed a small cross from the county seal, and authoring an amendment to repeal non-discrimination protection in Gainsville, FL, which the voters soundly rejected.

Though they have won some cases, the term that comes to mind isn’t “winners”.

While they rely primarily on the pro-bono contributions of devout Catholic lawyers, Richard Thompson is the Law Center’s President and Chief Counsel and the current mental giant directing the organization’s path. Thompson did pass the bar exam in Michigan so he can’t literally be dumber than a box of rocks. But when it comes to matters where his faith and reality conflict, he and the other Thomas More lawyers seem to contain the ability to believe and argue the absurd. In fact, their irrationality is only outpaced by their smug contempt and their shocking nastiness.

Take, for example, his latest denunciation of a gay teacher in Howell, Michigan. First let me give you the back story

  • On October 20, 2010, teacher Jay McDowell wore a purple shirt to class to express solidarity with students who are bullied for being (or being perceived as) gay or lesbian. Specifically, McDowell was responding to the suicide of Tyler Clementi two weeks earlier.
  • This led to a discussion about bullying and why it should be opposed.
  • One student, who had come to class with a Confederate Flag belt buckle was asked by McDowell to remove the item (she did).
  • In response, student Daniel Glowacki declared that he opposes rainbow flags because, “I don’t accept Gays. It is against my religion. I am Catholic.”
  • McDowell attempted to explain how “I don’t accept” followed by any group was disruptive and when the student refused to back down, suspended him and another student from the class for the day.
  • The school board responded by accusing McDowell of bullying the students, of denying their right to “not accept” their fellow students and in response to his defense of gay students from being bullied (or “not accepted”), they order him to “cease from engaging in the promotion of your personal social issues.”

But that just wasn’t good enough for the budding gay-not-accepter or his mother. No, he has been “blasted” as being a bigot and accused of hate. So on behalf of him and his mother, Thomas More is suing the school district. They want the school’s harassment speech policy to be declared unconstitutional, and that the district’s “training, supervision, policies, practices, customs, and/or procedures that promote a school environment that favors homosexuality and disfavors religious viewpoints that oppose homosexuality violate [bullys’] fundamental constitutional
rights to freedom of speech and the equal protection of the law.” Oh, and money.

The Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit yesterday afternoon against the Howell Public School District located in Howell, Michigan, and teacher, Johnson (“Jay”) McDowell, for punishment and humiliation heaped on a student after he expressed his religious belief opposing homosexuality when asked by the teacher during class.

By taking a look at this lawsuit, we can see not only why they fail so very often but also a glimpse into mindset that is so shockingly based in hatred and contempt that it distorts reality and leaves its victims incapable of rational thought.

Let me pause for a moment here to remind you that the Thomas More Law Center is a law firm, and thus is supposed to base its argument in fact and law. It is also a Catholic advocacy group and is supposed to base its ideology in the teachings of Christ and the traditions of the Church.

It is not the KKK.

I remind you of this because as we delve into the lawsuit presented in federal court, you may find yourself wondering about the degree of depravity and viciousness necessary to file this piece of filth. You may find yourself breathless and confused at the contrast between the Catholic Church declaring this to be a time of peace on Earth in which we reflect on a God who loves us, and the unvarnished hatred spewed in this document.

To introduce you to the mindset, let me present the words of Richard Thompson on this matter, (WorldNetDaily)

“It defies common sense for schools to ban all sorts of unhealthy foods while at the same time promoting the homosexual lifestyle, which hard statistics show increases drug abuse, suicides and reduces the life expectancies by several years. Schools that promote such lifestyles are engaging in a form of child abuse,” he said.

In this direct comparison, Thompson asserts that just like eating certain foods, “the homosexual lifestyle” (we’ll get to his definition later) directly causes increased drug abuse, suicides and reduced life expectancies. Cause and effect. Just like avoiding bad foods, avoiding “the homosexual lifestyle” can keep one from these risks of increased drug abuse, suicides and reduced life expectancies.

I don’t know what “hard statistics” he is referring to for his drug abuse claim. And I’ll discuss suicide in a moment. But those who read here know full well that his claim that “the homosexual lifestyle… reduces the life expectancies by several years” is a pernicious lie based on fraudulent “research” by Paul Cameron which has not only been proven to be false (in no small part by Box Turtle Bulletin) but has been denounced by all reputable scientists and scholars, including a number of conservative Christians. It is not fathomable that Thompson is unaware of this lie, and so I can only conclude that lying is intrinsic to his nature and a reflection of his moral condition.

But that is just the polished up portion presented for public consumption. In the brief – which is assumed not to be of interest to the average person – true evil arises.

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines evil thusly: “Evil – In a large sense, described as the sum of the opposition, which experience shows to exist in the universe, to the desires and needs of individuals; whence arises, among humans beings at least, the sufferings in which life abounds.” It is a term that is fraught with religious overtones. For our secular readers, it can seem gothic or irrelevant to modern discourse. Comical, even.

But as a Christian I take the concept seriously, and I don’t use the word “evil” lightly. Though it sounds like a phrase from a bad 70’s horror flick, evil exists. And I believe that as we progress you will understand why I see this intentional abandonment of decency, love, compassion, and all that is good, when placed in a religious context, as nothing other than evil.

I’ll only offer three passages from the brief. You can read the rest if you can stomach it. First is how Muise set up the scenario.

34. On or before October 20, 2010, the School District permitted teachers at Howell High School to sell purple t-shirts with the slogan “Tyler’s Army” to other students and teachers to promote the 2010 Spirit Day at the high school.

35. “Tyler’s Army” is a reference to Tyler Clementi. While a freshman at Rutgers University, Tyler had sex with another male student in his dorm room. Tyler’s homosexual acts were captured on video and posted on the Internet. Embarrassed and ashamed, Tyler committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge.

For clarity, let’s recall that when TMLC says Tyler “had sex” and discuss his “homosexual acts”, they were limited to kissing and hugging. Further, there is no evidence – strike that – there is no suggestion of any possible hint at a likelihood that Tyler was “ashamed”. Ashamed means that Clementi felt remorse for actions that he took, that his conscience convicted him of his behavior that was dishonorable. Clementi wasn’t ashamed – he had no reason to be.

Tyler committed suicide because a cruel person, his roommate Dharun Ravi, video taped him in a private moment and intentionally subjected him to public humiliation.

But the Thomas More Law Center exonerates Ravi. It sees the villain in the situation clearly: to TMCL the real person who is “to blame” is Tyler Clementi, for his “destructive lifestyle”. Bullying isn’t the problem, it is to be commended. Bullying is to be protected. Bullying is godly.

40. The purpose of the “anti-bullying” day, the “Tyler’s Army” t-shirts, and the movie was to indoctrinate students into believing that homosexuality is normal and to shift the blame for the destructive lifestyle of homosexuals to those who believe it is wrong and immoral.

Only those who hate homosexual persons – not “the sin”, not “intrinsic disorder”, but the actual gay people – could find virtue in bullying. Only truly those consumed by hatred would find excuses for the behavior of Ravi or suppose that Clementi experienced “shame”. Only those who presume as a matter of course, contrary to all evidence given by gay people, that homosexuality inherently produces shame would make such a claim.

But the real revelation of the mindset of Daniel Glowacki, his mother Sandra Glowacki, their TMLC attorney Robert Muise, TMLC head Richard Thompson, and those who support, celebrate, and promote the Thomas More Law Center can be found in paragraph 39 under “Statements of Fact”.

Here on the Glowackis’ behalf, Muise is discussing the situation in public schools in which young gay kids – and kids who didn’t identify as gay but were tormented with homophobia – have been bullied to the point where they can’t take it any more. These kids include:

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover – Springfield, MA. In April 2009, eleven year old Carl tied an electrical cord around his neck and hung himself. He had been subjected to a constant barrage of harassment at school where he was taunted and threatened by classmates for weeks, calling him gay and making fun of his clothes, before he killed himself.

Eric Mohat – Mentor, OH. April 2009. The seventeen year old was a quiet but likable boy, who was involved in theater and music> He was called “gay,” “fag,” “queer” and “homo”, often in front of his teachers, who did nothing. When one bully said publicly in class, “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself, no one will miss you,” he did.

Billy Lucas – Greensburg, IN. September 2010

The 15-year-old never told anyone he was gay but students at Greensburg High School thought he was and so they picked on him.

“People would call him ‘fag’ and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he’s different basically,” said student Dillen Swango.

Students told Fox59 News it was common knowledge that children bullied Billy and from what they said, it was getting worse. Last Thursday, Billy’s mother found him dead inside their barn. He had hung himself.

Asher Brown – Cyprus, TX. September 2010. Asher was thirteen when the straight-A student put the barrel of a gun to his head. He couldn’t take any more of the gay taunts, of kids performing mock sex acts on him in his physical education class. Unlike most others listed here, Asher actually identified as gay and was working with his family to come to terms with his orientation. On the last week of his life he was kicked down a flight of stairs. When he tried to retrieve his book bag, other students kicked his books away. The school “turned up no witnesses.”

Tehachapi teen Seth Walsh, who committed suicide following anti-gay bullyingSeth Walsh – Tehachapi, CA. September 2010. Seth had been picked on for years because he was gay. School administrators said they have an anti-bullying program in place, but schoolmates said staff at Jacobsen Middle School in Tehachapi offered Seth no protection or guidance. After years of abuse, Seth then thirteen, tied a rope around a tree branch.

Tyler Clementi – Rutgers University. September 2010. Tyler had a date and asked his roommate if he could have the room to himself. His roommate agreed, secretly turning on a camera connected to his computer and rushing to another student’s room where they broadcast Tyler’s encounter on the internet. After having his private life exposed – and tweeted about – Tyler, eighteen, leaped to his death in the Hudson River. He is the only one whose “homosexual acts” got as far as a kiss.

Lance Lundsten – Alexandria, Minnesota. January 2011. After Lance took his life by means of a drug overdose, the local newspaper began a campaign of disinformation and lies – with the Lundsten family’s consent – seeking to claim that Lance died of a heart condition. It went so far as to scold his classmates and “anti-bullying groups” for reflecting badly on the city and the school by revealing that Lance had been bullied and tormented.

Jamey Rodemeyer – Williamsville, NY. September 2011. Jamie was always under pressure because of struggles with his sexuality. Jamey’s mother Tracy Rodemeyer said, “So he hung around with the girls a lot, so then the teasing started happening like ‘Oh you’re such a girl or you’re gay or whatever and that bothered him for many years.” After Jamey, at fourteen, killed himself, “those who believe it is wrong and immoral” turned on his sister.

At a homecoming dance she attended shortly after her brother’s death, a potentially poignant moment turned ugly after a song by Lady Gaga, Jamey’s favorite artist, who recently dedicated a song at a concert in his memory.

“She was having a great time, and all of a sudden a Lady Gaga song came on, and they all started chanting for Jamey, all of his friends,’’ Jamey’s mother, Tracy, told Curry. “Then the bullies that put him into this situation started chanting, ‘You’re better off dead!’ and ‘We’re glad you’re dead!’ and things like that.

“My daughter came home all upset. It was supposed to be a time for her to grieve and have fun with her friends, and it turned into bullying even after he’s gone.’’

“I can’t grasp it in my mind,’’ said Tim Rodemeyer, Jamey’s father. “ I don’t know why anyone would do that. They have no heart, that’s basically what it comes down to.’’

Jamie Hubley – Ottawa, Ontario. October 2011. Jamie was the only openly gay student at his school, a sensitive kid who was struggling with being out in high school and often felt the sting of verbal bullying.

Jacob Rogers – Ashland City, Tennessee. December 2011. Jacob was bullied for the past four years, but in the past few months it had become so bad he dropped out of school. This month, Jacob ended his life. Eighteen years old. This month.

“He started coming home his senior year saying ‘I don’t want to go back. Everyone is so mean. They call me a faggot, they call me gay, a queer,'” friend Kaelynn Mooningham said.

But the Thomas More Law Center has a unique perspective about Carl and Eric and Billy and Asher and Seth and Tyler and Lance and Jamie and Jamey and Jacob and Roger.

In the minds on these people, it was not cruelty that is to blame. It isn’t being pushed down stairs. It isn’t being shoved into lockers. It isn’t being laughed at or condemned or being beaten bloody. It isn’t being tormented daily while the teachers looked on and did nothing. It isn’t having your private moments broadcast for the world to see.

No, Glowacki and Muise and Thompson are Catholics. And though none of the kids who committed suicide did anything which any rational person could condemn, nothing that could even be dismissed as a “homosexual lifestyle”, dangerous or otherwise, they aren’t the victims here. No, it’s the bullies that be defended.

Because Daniel Glowacki, Sandra Glowacki, Robert Muise, and Richard Thompson “are Catholics”. And “as Catholics, they are morally bound to follow the universal, consistent moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church” which “reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world.” And it is their Catholicism which leads them to describe the deaths of Carl and Eric and Billy and Asher and Seth and Tyler and Lance and Jamie and Jamey and Jacob and Roger in this way:

In each of his classes, Defendant McDowell explained to his students that October 20th was nationally recognized as “anti-bullying” day, and he showed his students a movie about teenagers who committed suicide because they were homosexual.

And who made you gay? Hmmmm? Could it be…. SATAN!?!

Timothy Kincaid

November 4th, 2011

One of the cleverest characters to have been created for Saturday Night Live was Dana Carvey’s Church Lady. Enid Strict, as host of show-within-a-show Church Chat, would interview guests focusing on their real or imagined failings and attribute them to … (pause for effect) … SATAN!

Her colorful euphemisms (e.g. “naughty parts all engorged and tingling”) and smug superiority made the Church Lady an instant cultural reference point. But the real success of Carvey’s character was based on the recognizable attitudes she espoused. Yes, Church Lady was way over the top, but only slightly more over the top than the very real people on religious television that she parodied.

And it would seem that the Church Lady’s proclivity to see Satan as the personal instigator of all manner of things is still alive and well. Take, for example, an amusing but real illustration out of Massachusetts.

The Pilot Catholic News is “America’s oldest Catholic newspaper” and the “Official Newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston”. And on October 28, the Church shared with us the wisdom of Daniel Avila, a policy adviser at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

I give Avila some credit. He has, after all, accurately articulated the problem that I have with the conservative theology on the matter of sexual orientation.

That is, if God causes same-sex attraction, and yet commands that it not be satisfied, then this is divine cruelty. Or, if God causes same-sex attraction, then it must be the divine will that those with the attraction should act on it and it is the Church that is being cruel in its teaching or at the very least tragically mistaken about what God wants.

Yeah, though I’d use different phrasing, that’s pretty much what I believe. Either the Church is misunderstanding the will of God, or the god they serve is a petty bully delighting in his own cruelty.

But Avila has discovered the flaw in my thinking. As it turns out, sexual orientation is not a naturally occurring phenomenon present in a stable minority of humans and illustrating either God’s intent or His consent. Nope. Avila’s found another culprit.

His logic goes like this: God wants us to be male or female, as evidenced by “male and female genes”. And as same-sex attraction is likely the result of “random imbalances in maternal hormone levels” and “their disruptive prenatal effects on fetal development”, then surely someone is causing those imbalances in order to thwart God’s intent.

And who is it that’s making all those male genes want to design ballgowns and those female genes want to play softball? Hmmmm? Could it be…. SATAN?!?

Why yes. It could.

Catholics do not have the luxury of being materialists. We look for ultimate explanations that transcend the strictly physical world and that stretch beyond our limited ability to mold and reshape reality as we know it. Disruptive imbalances in nature that thwart encoded processes point to supernatural actors who, unlike God, do not have the good of persons at heart.

In other words, the scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the devil. Any time natural disasters occur, we as people of faith look back to Scripture’s account of those angels who rebelled and fell from grace. In their anger against God, these malcontents prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. They continue to do all they can to mar, distort and destroy God’s handiwork.

Therefore, whenever natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the evil one, not God.

Well that’s nice. It turns out that you are a product of Satan.

So if you think little Johnny is demon possessed because he’d rather play dolls with his sister than hit her with a toy truck, Avila’s theology is the one for you. And if you beat little Johnny to death because of his demons, well surely the Church can understand your holy stance for righteousness.

And they printed it. Really. The Editors of the Pilot Catholic News (the Official Newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston) didn’t notice any problem with an editorial that claimed gay people were created by the devil.

Well, not until those outside the enclave of the faithful read it and either were horrified or laughed their asses off. Then they recalled that the words they were supposed to use in public were “image and likeness of God” and “inviolable dignity”, not “spawn of Satan”.

Ooopsie

And so a “retraction” was issued.

“Statements made in my column, ‘Some fundamental questions on same-sex attraction’ of October 28, do not represent the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the column was not authorized for publication as is required policy for staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The teaching of Sacred Scripture and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church make it clear that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and have inviolable dignity. Likewise, the Church proclaims the sanctity of marriage as the permanent, faithful, fruitful union of one man and one woman. The Church opposes, as I do too, all unjust discrimination and the violence against persons that unjust discrimination inspires. I deeply apologize for the hurt and confusion that this column has caused.”

I put retraction in quotes because, to me, if you are taking back some truly evil and vile thing you have just said about people, you don’t use the opportunity to “proclaim the sanctity” of denying those people’s rights. That is neither apology or retraction but rather a smug pat on his own back.

And, while I’m at it, I’m sick of the Catholic Church opposing “unjust discrimination.” Guess what, Avila? The distinction between “unjust” discrimination and “just” discrimination isn’t determined by whether or not you want to engage in it. Justice isn’t defined as “what the Church endorses”.

So you can stop doing your little Superior Dance.

And now the latest word is that Daniel Avila has resigned his advisor position. And the church gratefully accepted his resignation.

Which solves everything, doesn’t it?

Sure, except that behind the pretty-speak about being children of God, we know what they really think. Avila is not alone. His column passed the editorial staff without question and he’s received no rebuke from the church.

And the next time the Roman Catholic Church tries to appeal to their moral values to take away civil rights from you and those you love, remember this: they may say that they love you, but that love is the same love they would feel for any other vile creatures created by Satan himself.

Well now, isn’t that special?

– – – –
thanks to Ned for the links and the copy of the original article

The Pilot pulled the opinion piece (who could blame them) but you can read it after the break
Read the rest of this entry »

Yet Another Poll Shows Young Evangelicals’ Increased Support for Marriage Equality

Jim Burroway

September 9th, 2011

The Washington Post points to a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released in late August that found a huge generation gap between young Evangelical Christians and seniors in support for same-sex marriage. PPRI found that there is at least a 20-point gap between Millennials (age 18 to 29) overall regardless of religious affiliation and seniors (age 65 and older) on every public policy position concerning LGBT people. The survey found that 62% of Millennials favor allowing same-sex marriage, 69% are okay with gay couples adopting children, 71% favor civil unions and 79% favor employment anti-discrimination measures. Sixty-nine percent of Millennials overall believe that religious groups are alienating young people by being anti-gay.

The gap persists among Evangelicals as well. Forty-four percent of white Evangelical Millennials favor marriage equality, as opposed to 12% of Evangelical seniors.

Taking religion out of the equation, the same poll also found that 49% of Republican Millennials also favor marriage equality, in contrast to 19% of Republican seniors and 31% of Republicans overall.

The same poll also found that 52% of self-identified Catholics favor allowing gay people to marry, and an identical proportion believe that gay relationships are not a sin. What’s more, 46% of Catholics think the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality is too conservative, 43% think it’s about right, and only 6% think it is too liberal. Among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, 37% overall think the church is too conservative on gay issues while 54% say it is about right. This poll also confirms earlier findings that there is a significant ethnic division among Catholics on this issue, with 55% of Hispanic Catholics believing the church is too conservative on homosexuality, compared to 43% of white non-Hispanic Catholics holding the same view.

The poll’s margins of error: ±2% for the general sample, 3.7% for white Evangelicals, 3.9% for Catholics, 8.3% for Latino Catholics, 4.5% for Millennials, 3.8% for seniors, and 3.5% for Republicans. No margin of error was given for white Evangelicals Millennials or for white Evangelical seniors.

The Catholic Church’s significant impact on marriage opinion

Timothy Kincaid

July 29th, 2011

The Washington Post has a new opinion poll out which indicates that support for marriage equality in New York continues to be greater than opposition. Politico provides some analysis on the demographic breakdowns.

Of particular interest are the responses of Catholics. The Catholic Church (and its quasi-secular adjunct, The National Organization for Marriage) was the primary voice of opposition to legal marriage rights. Bishops loudly (and sometimes rather nastily) denounced efforts to recognize same-sex couples and sought to mobilize the Roman Catholic Church’s large membership in response.

So I was interested in discovering if the Church and its teaching had any impact on the political position of the Catholic New Yorkers. And it does appear as though the Church’s teaching has significantly impacted its parishioners’ views on the subject.

Catholics are broadly supportive of the measure, with nearly 60 percent saying they view the new law favorably, although support drops off among those who attend church less frequently.

So those who go to mass more often support marriage even more? Well, preach on, Padre.

UPDATE: Alas, sad news. Politico made a typo (drat them) and it turns out that the churchy Catholics are actually less supportive of equality (48%) than the stay-at-home variety (66%).

And I also got the poll population wrong. It asked a question about the New York marriage law in addition to the more general support question and my brain evidently started the weekend before me. (thanks, Matt, for the corrections.)

Poll: 74% of Catholics Support Recognizing Same-Sex Unions

Jim Burroway

March 24th, 2011

The Public Religion Research Institute has released a poll that probably won’t come as much of a surprise among Catholics. According to the poll, nearly three quarters of Americna Catholics favor legal recognition of same-sex union, either in the form of civil unions (31%) or marriage (43%) Only 22% of Catholics oppose all legal recognition of same-sex couples. When same-sex marriage is explicitly defined as civil marriage, support shoots up higher: 71% then support same sex civil marriages “like you get at city hall.”

This shouldn’t be surprising for two reasons. First, Catholics have now had 43 years of clergy demanding that they refrain from artificial birth control, a teaching that the average Catholic in the pews has roundly rejected. And having rejected one teaching that the Church considers a key teaching on sexuality, they are more than willing to reconsider other teaching as well. Besides, longtimes Catholics will tell you that the image of the meek Catholic obediently following church teaching died out generations ago, at about the same time the Catholic Church stopped being an immigrant church and became, at least for American parishes, an American church.

There’s something else going on as well. Catholics are very aware of the distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage. As every Catholic will tell you, you can be married at city hall or at an Elvis chapel in Vegas, but the marriage doesn’t exist as far as the Church is concerned. And as divorced Catholics know very well, you can have all of the divorce decrees and marriage licenses you can collect from civil authorities, but no priest will marry you unless the Church decides you’re qualified to be married.

The conservative CatholicVote.org thinks they have an answer for these poll results:

Who is driving the numbers behind the headline: “Catholic support same-sex marriage”? Catholics who are almost never in the pews. And yet, when it comes to the headlines, Catholics who can’t even trouble themselves to get to Mass with any sort of regularity are lumped in with faithful Catholics who actually try to follow the teachings of the Church.

Nice try, but that’s not the whole story. Sure, the poll leans heavily toward Catholics who go to church less than once a week (61% of all respondents), but look at the results among regular churchgoing Catholics. The percentage who supports either marriage or civil unions still reaches 64% among Catholics who attend church weekly or more often.

The report (PDF: 351KB/23 pages) does not describe the poll’s margin of error, sample size, or methodology.

More, more, more amicus

Timothy Kincaid

September 24th, 2010

Three more amicus briefs were filed today in addition to those of Ed Whelan and Liberty Counsel.

The American Center for Law and Justice (Jay Sekulow) wrote:

II. MORALITY IS A LEGITIMATE BASIS FOR LEGISLATION.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558(2003), did not abolish the legitimacy of morality as a state interest. Indeed, to have done so would have been both revolutionary and destructive, as morality has long been recognized as a basis for law, and countless laws today rest upon morality. The district court therefore erred in dismissing moral considerations out of hand.

Something called The Hausvater Project, which appears to be related to the parochial schools of the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod filed to support “the right of parents to determine their children’s education”. This one flummoxed me; I have no idea what they are talking about.

Parents have a fundamental right to determine their children’s education, protected under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause. California citizens voting in favor of Prop. 8 (“Prop. 8 Supporters”) had, and on their behalf the defendant-intervenors-appellants (“Prop. 8 Proponents”) in this case continue to have, good reason to regard Prop. 8 as a safeguard of that fundamental constitutional right. Since the safeguarding of a constitutional right properly serves the state’s interest, the district court erred in concluding that Prop. 8 serves no legitimate or compelling state interest. Moreover, parents’ fundamental right to determine their children’s education should take priority over the competing claims of plaintiffs-appellees Kristin Perry et al./same-sex couples (“Prop. 8 Opponents”) who plea for Equal Protection and Due Process rights to same-sex marriage.

It seems that they are arguing that because the Proposition 8 campaign played on the fears of parents (“I learned in class that a prince could marry another prince, and I can marry a princess!”) that therefore it is based in the constitutional right of parents to make sure that public schools condemn the things which they condemn. Or something like that.

Which is an odd argument coming from an organization of parochial schools.

The second part of their argument was that allowing gay people to marry would have a “chilling impact” on the religious freedoms of those who want to stop them. If governments actually treat gay people as full citizens and if schools refer to them as such, then it greatly reduces the impact of those who preach from pulpits that they are not.

Far from furthering a state interest, such religious organizations would be in opposition to a state interest, at least insofar as one accepts the district court’s own identifications of the state’s interest and the religious groups’ motivations. This is not small potatoes.

And if Judge Walker’s decision is left intact it would lead to “nothing short of the abolition of parochial schools and homeschooling.” And then they really go bat-poop crazy. It’s all a plan on the part of the homosexuals to destroy family and society; first they redefine marriage and then they’ll take away our children.

A tremendous burden falls now to this court as to whether those asserting the freedom to chose a spouse of the same sex can secure that socially constructed status apart from denying, with increasing tenacity, the fundamental right of a man and a woman to direct the education of the children whom nature calls their own. The social engineers of incremental strategies favoring same-sex marriage have themselves answered the question in the negative. Whatever disappointment a reversal of the district court’s decision may bring to the particular homosexual couples who originated the complaint, at least they will be liberated from serving as pawns in a larger scheme that ultimately would constrain not only their neighbors’ liberties, but also their own.

And finally we have the amicus brief of

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The California Catholic Conference
The National Association of Evangelicals
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons)
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
The Calvary Chapel Fellowship of Ministries of California
The Christian and Missionary Alliance
Coral Ridge Ministries Media, Inc.
The Council of Korean Churches in Southern California
Southern California Korean Ministers Association
Holy Movement for America

Believe me, other than all being in the broad category of “Christian” and being devoted to the condemnation of gay people and bringing harm to their lives, these folks have nothing in common. It takes a powerful amount of joint purpose, in this case their religious-based animus towards gay people, to get them in the same room.

And I do find it interesting just who is not present in this joint statement. This, more than most any other document, draws the line between combatants over the religious direction of the nation.

We write separately to answer the district court’s distortion and condemnation of our beliefs as irrational and illegitimate and to defend the constitutional right of citizens and associations of faith to participate fully in the democratic process. Contrary to the aspersions cast by the decision below, our beliefs about marriage are not based on hatred or bigotry. Our support for traditional marriage has vastly more to do with a rich tapestry of affirmative teachings about marriage and family than with doctrines directed at the issue of homosexuality. To be sure, our religious beliefs hold that all sexual acts outside traditional marriage are contrary to God’s will. But our faiths also entreat us to love and embrace those who reject our beliefs, not to hate or mistreat them. Bigotry is contrary to our most basic religious convictions.

A bit ironic when you consider that the purpose of this brief is not to love and embrace those who reject their beliefs, but rather to force by law those beliefs which they cannot persuade through preaching.

Faith communities and religious organizations have a long and vibrant history of upholding marriage as the union of a man and a woman for reasons that have little or nothing to do with homosexuality. Indeed, their support for traditional marriage precedes by centuries the very notion of homosexuality as a recognized sexual orientation (see ER106), not to mention the recent movement for same-sex marriage. Many of this nation’s prominent faith traditions have rich religious narratives that describe and extol the personal, familial, and social virtues of traditional marriage while mentioning homosexuality barely, if at all.

Except, of course, that every single denomination listed decries homosexuality as sinful, rebellious, or evil. Without exception.

The gist of their argument is that it is unfair of Judge Walker to take a side in the religious culture war, that they have the right to try and vote their religious beliefs into law, and besides they loooooove the homosexual, they just want to grant special privilege to those who follow their beliefs.

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